Last week, I was required to leave Hungary temporarily and had to pick a city to visit while I was away. I settled on Lviv, Ukraine, a small tourist city located a stone’s throw from the border with Poland. While I’d originally intended only to visit for a couple days, I enjoyed Lviv so much that I extended my stay through the end of the week, enabling me to see much of the city.
Here are my observations on what I saw…
1. Ukraine is a third-world country.
I’ve written about the deteriorating political and economic situation in Ukraine already, but it’s entirely another thing to have it thrust in your face. Ukraine’s poverty is evident the second you cross the border. I traveled to Lviv via train from Budapest (there are no direct flights between the cities), and rural Hungary doesn’t look that much different from the rural northern U.S.: lots of farms, rustic villages and mountains in the distance. The only things that puncture the illusion are the occasional nuclear power plant, cow grazing on railroad property, or horrifying grey communist-era apartment block.
Rural Ukraine is run-down and decaying. The Tisza River (delineating the border between Hungary and Ukraine) is a filthy creek. Chop, the border town where I cleared customs, is a dirty, crumbling dump. Roads have moped-sized potholes, houses are in shambles, and people are burning trash everywhere or setting forest fires for the hell of it. I’m not kidding: Ukrainians love setting things on fire. On the train from Chop to Lviv, I saw so many fires that they lit up the night sky. There’s also a stark class divide; you’ll often see nice, new houses with steel gates and stone fences right next to run-down farmhouses with broken windows and rusted-out cars on the front lawn.
Lviv is in better shape than the other parts of Ukraine I saw, but even there, things are coming apart at the seams. Once you leave the Old Town area of the city, the roads start getting shabbier and the buildings more poorly maintained. Even the sidewalks themselves, which are all cobblestone, are in a state of disrepair. All of the girls I saw wore boots when they were out and about because it was the only way to protect their feet.
2. Lviv is the the cheapest city I’ve ever been to.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that Ukraine is the white Philippines. Thanks to the poor economy, you can live large on the smallest of budgets.
For example, a first-class train ride from Chop to Lviv is about $7. A fully furnished apartment in the center of Lviv is $10 a night… the absolute lowest that Airbnb allows landlords to charge. Eating out at nice restaurants is about $5; in fact, they’re so cheap that I started ordering multiple courses, which I never do anywhere else. Taxi rides will run you less than $4, not that you need them since everything important in the city is within walking distance, and there’s also a robust tram system that costs about $.15 per ride. Ukraine has become so poor that a waiter actually got mad at me for paying for a 130 hryvnia (UAH) dinner with a 500 UAH note because it was the only one I had.
For reference, 500 UAH is about $18.
If it weren’t for Ukraine’s political instability, Lviv would be an ideal place for budget-conscious travelers to settle down. While the city lacks the nightlife and amusement options that bigger cities have, its low cost of living, quiet atmosphere, cute girls and proximity to major European cities such as Krakow, Budapest and Kiev make it extremely appealing.
3. Ukrainians are outgoing and curious about foreigners.
Unlike Russians, who can barely be bothered to do their jobs when you ask them to, Ukrainians will go out of their way to help foreigners, particularly Americans. Due to the State Department scaring everyone away from Ukraine due to the war in Donbass—which is happening clear on the other side of the country, in a place no one would ever want to go—visitors from English-speaking countries are a novelty. Even in Lviv, the only tourists I encountered were from Poland, the Czech Republic or other eastern European countries.
For example, I attracted attention at the Chop border crossing because I was the only non-Hungarian or non-Ukrainian on the train. While I was staring at the timetable trying to give myself a crash course in Cyrillic, one of the border cops on duty came up and asked me if I needed help (despite barely knowing English). In Lviv, I would regularly get stares from girls walking down the street, though the fact that I wore a suit whenever I went out was probably part of the reason why.
The only area where I was even remotely hassled was at customs itself.
When the Ukrainians were searching my bag, they held me up for ten minutes after finding a packet of phenibut. The officer doing the search asked me if it was hashish; I told him no and explained what phenibut was, and he and his colleague spent ten minutes Googling it on their phones before figuring out that it was legal and sending me on my way. I was likely saved in part by the fact that I was wearing a suit and my passport lists my birthplace (New York), so the guards assumed I had money and were more likely to shake me down for a bribe than arrest me.
4. Lviv is the least Americanized city I’ve been to in Europe.
In a week’s visit, I saw exactly one outpost of American consumer culture: a lone McDonald’s near the Opera House. Everything else is either local, Ukrainian or a Russian chain. Even American brands of junk food are hard to come by; supermarkets are dominated by regional equivalents. The atmosphere is also extremely conservative, with none of the meat market anarchy of Budapest’s party district. Girls here tend to be conscientious and don’t sleep with men until the second or third date at least.
The downside to all this is that English fluency is rather low. In Chop, the only people who spoke any English were the customs officials. In Lviv, young people speak decent English, but their overall proficiency is lower than Hungarians in Budapest. Settling down in Lviv for the long-term would require me to learn some Ukrainian (or possibly Russian; however, Lviv is the most nationalist part of Ukraine and Russians are widely disliked there).
5. Ukrainian girls are the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, and the easiest to approach.
While American trends such as obesity and social justice have made a tiny amount of headway in Hungary, they’re completely stopped dead in Ukraine. Just about every girl between the age of 18 and 30 in Lviv is head-turningly gorgeous and dressed to the nines in skirts and boots. Beyond their physical attractiveness, the average Ukrainian girl oozes femininity and carries herself with an energy that radiates beyond her looks.
Ukrainian girls are also stupidly easy to approach, far easier than Hungarian girls. On my first day in Lviv, I fired up Tinder while eating lunch and started swiping right. In less than five minutes, I immediately had three matches, a far better response rate than I’d seen anywhere else, and I ended up going on a date with one of them. Later that day, while touring the city, I just started going up to girls and talking to them. As an American wearing a suit, girls were curious as to why I was in their city, and they didn’t attempt to play stupid games or act cliquish. (I’ll write more about the girls later.)
Overall, I really enjoyed my stay in Lviv. If it weren’t for my work in Budapest, I’d seriously consider relocating there for a spell. As it stands, I plan to come back in the near future.
P.S. If you’re ready to start meeting Ukrainian girls now, click here.
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